It's that time of the year where lots of newsletters, websites, and, well, everything, release gift guides. I get sucked into these as much as anyone else. It's a lot of fun to see what's trending or new. Plus, occasionally, it sparks an idea for a great gift.
When it comes to gifts I like, I tend to want something practical... or nothing at all. Having lots of "stuff" around makes me anxious. But even I need and want new things. I keep a short list of stuff on an I Want Pinterest board. Some of the items have been on there for years because I just don't see the need to ask for them yet. Other things, I would just never buy for myself but think they might be nice to have. (Mom - I know you're reading this. I promise I'll send you an actual list soon.) In lieu of buying gifts for each other, the husband and I are each buying ourselves new laptops since we both need them.
Now that we've got a kiddo, I'm more focused on her gift list. We don't live in a big place and having lots of toys means that none of them get played with very often. Our family has been wonderful respecting our boundaries around gifts. For her birthday and Christmas, we put together a list. Each family group can pick one item from that list. This year, we said they could add a stocking stuff item of their choice. Kiddo gets to open everything but we don't keep it all out. She picks a toy to keep and the rest go away for later. We break a new one back out every few weeks or months. We try to time that to a day she is home from daycare and we're also stuck working from home.
It's a system that's worked really well for us. The one problem is, I sometimes forget we have this stash of toys. We still have one toy from last Christmas that we have yet to pull out.
How do you handle gifting?
I spent part of my Friday staring at melting ice.
We have a special ice maker that creates beautifully clear ice balls. After you remove the balls from the mold, the bottom of the container has the "leftover" ice which is cloudy with air bubbles. To speed up the melting process, I filled the container with hot water. It was then I noticed the fizzing.
Curious, I leaned over the container and watched as individual air bubbles were released from the ice as they melted. Every now and then, a group would release at once and fizz to the top like carbonation. My favorite moments, however, were when a big bubble blooped its way to the surface.
I must have stared at this for ten minutes. It was entrancing - almost meditative. In those minutes, my mind was eased and quiet.
It's interesting how certain things capture your attention.
Do you remember that commercial for UPS with the ditty about loving logistics?
I was thinking about it while I was waiting out a flight delay in Indianapolis caused by dense fog in DC. Since my flight was direct and I had nothing to rush home to, I could spend my time working and people watching.
Camped out in a chair, I marveled at all the goings on around me. Some of my fellow passengers were waiting to see if they could be rebooked. The flight across the way was deboarding and I could see the airline employees turning over the plane, refueling, and unloading baggage. A couple of airport employees worked in the terminal moving passengers with mobility issues, cleaning the moving walkway, and restocking a grab-and-go kiosk.
This was just what I could see from my seat. I couldn't see the air control tower. I couldn't see the flights in the air. I couldn't see the TSA agents. I couldn't see ticketing or the baggage operation. I couldn't see all the digital work that goes into running the airline industry.
There's an impressive amount of logistics that go into just this one operation of moving people from place to place. It's kind of inspiring to think about how all the little things we do work together to keep things rolling on a daily basis.
Halloween is tomorrow and I have a request of everyone: Please don't be a Halloween Grinch.
A Halloween grinch complains about kids who are "too old to trick-or-treat." A Halloween grinch gripes about kids not in costume. A Halloween grinch looks down their nose at adults who take a piece of candy. A Halloween Grinch tries to police who comes to their neighborhood. A Halloween Grinch complains about the noise and people traipsing across their yard. A Halloween Grinch, essentially, gatekeeps a holiday that should be fun.
Don't be a Halloween Grinch.
You don't know the story of everyone on Halloween. Maybe that child's adults couldn't afford a costume. Maybe trick-or-treating adults are getting candy for a kid who is home sick. Maybe those kids are being driven to your neighborhood because there are sidewalks or better decorations. Those "too old" teenagers are literally doing the most wholesome thing they can on Halloween.
If you run out of candy or Halloween is too much for you, do two simple things:
The trick-or-treaters will pass you by.
Enjoy the costumes, cheerful noises, and the barely contained chaos. It's just one night.
This week, I was out of town presenting at the Internet Librarian conference. Originally, for this intro, I thought about musing on my talk. I discussed remote customer service and how everyone (looking at you c-suiters and directors) needs to be trained to do it well. It was a great talk. I had 100 people, give or take, in the audience which was about a quarter of all attendees.
But that's not what I want to talk about. Instead, I want to talk about a session I attended.
The speaker discussed remote work and how it harms our physical and mental well-being. She showcased the issues and then rolled into how we can mitigate the problems. Her intentions were great, but I kept finding a problem in the framing. She focused on how individuals can fix these issues instead of employers. That really got to me. It's days later and this is still eating at me.
The ergonomic issues of the home office - bad desks, poor seating, screen glare, etc. - also exist in the office. My home office set up isn't the best - but my office cubicle is about 0 degrees and my chair seat tilts slightly to the left and my feet don't touch the ground which gives me a crick in my back. No workspace is perfect. Some employers are trying to force workers back on-site because of ergonomics. No! The same goes for team cohesiveness and collaboration. Companies claim it's better on-site than remote. Also, no! I'm tired of managers thinking good work can only be done in an office. There are problems with remote. But there are also problems with the office.
I keep coming back to the fact that the problem isn't the location, it's the demands of work itself. Employees are treated like robots who generate output instead of human beings. All of these physical/mental issues that come from remote work also happen in the office. We need to support people as individuals wherever they work - but most companies don't want to do this because it costs money.
Instead of framing these issues as something individuals need to fix, we need to look at systematic solutions. It cannot be up to a single person to fix societal and cultural problems. The burden needs to be on employers. Yes, it will cost money. But it will make people happier. Happier employees are more engaged, productive, and innovative. But, more importantly, it's the right thing to do.
Now who wants to hear me rant about the cult of work productivity?
This past week was one of the busiest I've had in a long time.
After five days of no childcare (planned closures for PD and parent-teacher conferences), we rolled right into a short work week. A short work week in which I needed to jam a lot of stuff since I'm going out of town for a conference this week. I had projects related to outreach, instruction, a research poster presentation, and our website usability tests. Those needed to cover both this week, the week I'm gone, and in preparation for the first days I'm back. This was on top of needing to prepare the material for my conference presentation on Wednesday. Oh! And, due to a deadline for another conference, I had to work on the deck for that.
Additionally, my brother was in town and I wanted to squeeze in a dinner with a friend. Plus, as a nervous traveler, the week before a trip always sees me making lists, gathering stuff to pack, and generally fretting about what could go wrong. (Still nervous there is not going to be an Uber around when I call for very early tomorrow morning.)
There was so much on my plate, I ended up fully time boxing my week. I don't love doing this because it makes it hard for students to schedule appointments with me, but I could not help it this week. I needed to see, hour by hour, what I needed to accomplish this week. Aside from not finishing a slide deck, I was mostly successful.
How do you get through busy weeks?
Early Friday morning, I had - what I like to think of as - a guilt free hour.
My body woke me up just before 6am to use the restroom. Since I've been nursing a mildly tweaked back, I was more awake than I wanted. I climbed into bed thinking I might sneak 30 more minutes of sleep. I opted not because, on mornings like these, I usually end up more tired than if I had just gotten up.
That began my guilt free hour. This was early morning time where, since I should not be awake, I could enjoy the quiet and not do anything productive. Should I have exercised. Maybe. Should I have gotten a jump start on work since our kiddo was home for a planned daycare closure. Probably. Should I have done one of the ninety other things on my to-do list that are easier done uninterrupted. Perhaps.
But I didn't. Because this was a guilt free hour.
Instead, I cozied under a blanket on our couch, relished an actual hot cup of coffee, and read the news. I can't remember the last time I perused the entire front page of both CNN and the Washington Post. This is the most informed I've been in months. (Honestly... not sure I like that.)
What do you do when you have an unplanned early morning?
I was reminded this week of how weird the U.S. education system is.
When I was in elementary school, we lived in Florida. As a part of science class, we learned how to track hurricanes. We used pencils, rulers, and paper maps to draw cones of uncertainty and eye paths. We tracked every hurricane that hit the state of Florida that year - including Hurricane Andrew. This assignment not only taught us meteorology and a little math but also provided local learning.
We moved from Florida to upstate New York in 1995. Up there, I learned about all the Native American tribes who lived there along with a lot of local revolutionary war history. The local Alachua county history I learned in Florida was no help here. Instead, we focused on Otsego county and New York.
The U.S. is HUGE. It's important to not only learn national and international history, but state and local history as well. While most of my county history is lost to time, I appreciate that I was given the chance to explore it.
This does make me wonder, however, how much is lost in our state by state system. I moved to four different states before I went to college. My K-12 educational experience was jumpy. Since each state has different rules, moving from one to the other means I got some stuff twice and missed other things entirely. I had the privilege of parents who filled in the gaps with books, trips, and conversations. Not everyone is so lucky.
Now, with all the book bans and curriculum conditions (looking at you CRT scare tactics) I know that students in many states are being short changed. It's not fair that some students get broad and informed exposure to topics and skills while others are kept in the dark.
Also, update from last week, my husband could, in fact, be bothered enough by the cobwebs. He took one for the team and cleared them out.
Sometimes there are chores I just can't be bothered with.
For example, this week, the weather turned cool which means we got to throw open all our windows. This is a glorious time of year and I'm glad it's finally here. What I am not happy about is that doing this reminded me of all the cobwebs that are hanging around outside.
Our building has deeply inset windows. Spiders like to make their webs between the brick façade and window frame. This means each window has several clusters of cobwebs just staring me in the face. As the wind blows, the cobwebs smush and thicken. The spiders make more webs. Soon, I see thick strands and clumps of cobwebs every time I look outside. They're now starting to gather leaves.
What I need to do is open the screens and wipe everything down with a duster pole covered in a towel. That will sweep away the webs and make our windows look cleaner.
This whole chore would probably take me 15-minutes to do. I just don't feel like doing it.
What chore are you ignoring?
I love a good tracker. Extensive or short, complex or simple, show me how something is coming along and I'm a happy camper.
I have a tracking sheet for my newsletter so I know what I've shared. I have trackers for my blog. For work, I have good ole lists where I cross off project steps as we go along. I wear a FitBit. My bullet journal has several trackers including what TV series we're watching, habits I want to keep, tasks I want to get done through the year, monthly tasks, and a cleaning checklist.
My husband was out of town this week. I tracked his flights online. When he ran a marathon, I kept tabs on him through Find My iPhone so I knew where to meet him to cheer him on.
I love trackers so much that they don't even need to be relevant for me.
Case in point, I am addicted to checking the tracker for "The Queue" [gift link]. This is more formally known as "Her Majesty The Queen's Lying-in-State." It's an official government feed on YouTube that shows the length, wait time, and location for those who want to pay their respects to the queen. I'm not in London. I'm not going to go to Westminster. I still can't help myself from checking this feed several times a day. I want to see where things are at and read the little notes they add to let people know what's going on.
If you give me the chance to see what's going on with a "thing," I will use it.
Do you like trackers?